Living Walls, a local nonprofit which uses art to inspire social change and create welcoming public spaces, was planning to celebrate its 10th anniversary at 8Arm on March 23. Chef Maricela Vega had planned a plant-based, Mexican-inspired menu, and Josephine Figueroa, aka La Superior, of La Choloteca was set to DJ. Living Walls cofounder and executive director Monica Campana had bought a fringed, cobalt blue top from Mexican sustainable clothing maker Recrear for the occasion. But, not surprisingly, she had to call off the event on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Campana is still saving the shirt.
This year, Living Walls had expected to spend about $250,000, both locally and abroad, but now, most everything is uncertain as much funding is on hold and artists shelter in place. However, Campana, who launched Living Walls in the wake of the Great Recession with only $4,000—kickstarting a mural movement in the city that eventually would attract international artists—has witnessed the power of public art in trying times.
Changing course, Campana organized a new iteration of a 2017 initiative called Signs of Solidarity ATL. The original project, created in collaboration with a group of Philadelphia artists, featured banners promoting love, hope, and positivity in response to the turbulent political environment. Radiating those sentiments again now seemed a no-brainer, she says. So Campana went to Home Depot, bought a bunch of drop cloths, and gathered some paint supplies; then, she and Kristen Consuegra, director of production, distributed them to 16 artists. Each artist received $100—which was, at least, a little grocery money, she notes. Participants have displayed their work on front porches, a yoga studio, and apartment buildings.
“It is important for us to bring together our creative community to show everyone out in the public space what Atlanta is about,” says Campana. Although she gave artists little direction, Campana says two central themes have emerged: “let love take over fear” and “we are in this together.”
Bianca Acosta, who hung her banner on her East Lake cabin, notes, “I really like to offer information that people can connect to in an emotional way rather than just statistics or charts that can feel hard to grasp and upsetting. Something visual can go across age, cultural, and language barriers. It can be understood by children. Anyone can get it and take something positive from it.” In fact, her mother, who is an elementary school art teacher in Gwinnett, adapted the concept for her now-homebound students.
Five of the works will light up digital billboards on downtown buildings in a program curated by Orange Barrel Media. Contributions from the Edwards Deutsch Family Fund have expanded the program to 30 artists. Three large-scale murals are being planned, including a possible piece for Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center. The artists plan to sell prints of their banners and auction off the originals.
Barry Lee’s eight-story, purple heart illustration is displayed digitally on the side of the Reverb Hotel across from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “It’s easy to live in fear through scary times and get soaked up into the saturation of the things happening around us,” he says. “Fear will always seem louder than love, but we can allow love to be louder than fear if we consciously try our best.”
This article appears in our June 2020 issue.